Following seven or eight good listens to one-man lo-fi-athon Cloud Nothings’s eponymous first punt at music stardom, I’ve catapulted him into a respectable but decidedly un-Earth-shattering fifth place in the Dylian League, my much-admired and widely-respected league table of favourite Dylans. This, predictably, puts Mr. Nothings below Moran, Thomas, mythical Celt Aldon and the rabbit from The Magic Roundabout, but still comfortably ahead of Dizzee Rascal, Drew Barrymore’s character from Charlie’s Angels and thoroughly unnecessary new Rugrat Dylan “Dil” Pickles.However, before we press on with the rest of the review, I must first present you with a very serious question: do you enjoy pop punk music, and/or look back upon its short heyday with fondness? Does the thought of grown men with spiky hair jumping around in shorts cause you to go all misty-eyed? Do you pine for those glory days at the turn of the century when a legion of tattooed cretins staged a mass Freudian regression into bawdy, obnoxious second adolescences filled with power chords, sweat socks, metal pastiches and dick jokes? Of course, this is a review, and – other than shout at your computer screens, which won’t work – you’ve no way to answer me, so I’m just going to assume that your response would be something similar to mine; i.e. a statement along the lines of: “No, thanks. I’d sooner take a trip back to September 1939. In Poland.”
With that all that neatly settled, I’ll now explain the logic behind young Mr. Baldi’s underwhelming new entry in the League’s mid-table. Almost all the songs on Cloud Nothingsshow plenty of promise. Some have hummable melodies (‘Not Important’; ‘Rock’), some create an appealing atmosphere (‘Forget You All The Time’; the Stooges-alike ‘You’re Not That Good at Anything’) and some simply have DB doing a thoroughly convincing Brian Wilson impression (well, just one: the lovely ‘Understand at All’, which effectively features as its chorus the middle Wilson’s part in ‘You Still Believe in Me’). There’s flashes of intelligent ‘90s Britpop throughout, with parts bearing more than a passing resemblance to ‘Drowners’-era Suede. Songs are short and refreshingly energetic, often bordering (a little uncomfortably) on punk, whilst, beneath the layer of scuzzy mud that passes for production, there’s a competently-plucked, appealingly derivative Smithsian jangle holding the whole thing together in floppy-fringed style (well, I say Smithsian; Marr stole it all from Jim McGuinn, who in turn nicked it from George Harrison, who, of course, famously pilfered it from God himself).
So what’s the problem? “All that sounds fantastic!”, I hear you cry. “Surely it must be more appealing than an obscure character from a confusing mediæval Welsh myth-cycle?” You’d think so, but nope. Here’s the thing: it’s all a bit pop punk.
Let me explain. You’ll be happily listening to a song – nodding your head; tapping your foot; contentedly digesting one of the many positives listed above – and then, out of nowhere, like an uninvited guest using the new shag pile as an ashtray, Dylan will turn into pre-gay Billie Joe Armstrong and write the whole thing off. And it just keeps happening. ‘Not Important’ opens with a perfectly listenable, if slightly generic, Brit-indie intro before it’s ruined by some truly grating Dookie-whining; ‘All The Time’ features a tender chorus, wise beyond its years, sandwiched between two irritating verses buried under an avalanche of power chords; and nothing’s wrong with the melodic, harmony-laden ‘Nothing’s Wrong’ (geddit?), other than the fact it sounds like Less Than Jake.
I do feel like a bit of a bastard even slightly criticising Cloud Nothings, because it’s clearly the work of an talented, dedicated young musician with a (mostly) impressive list of influences, who I’m sure will go on to do great things; I only wish it sounded a bit more like the cover. Smiths-182 just isn’t something I ever needed to hear.
Words : Jon Chapple